How Much Freshwater Does Canada Have?

How Much Fresh Water Does Canada Have cover

Niagara Falls, Ontario

Water is a valuable and necessary resource for all living things. And Canadians are lucky to have heaps of it – about 7 per cent of the world’s “renewable” freshwater supply, with just half a per cent of the global population.

Canada is well known for its natural beauty and natural resources such as oil and natural gas, but not often do people think of the immense water resources that Canadians have also been bestowed with.

With more than two million lakes and countless rivers, nearly nine per cent of Canada’s total land surface area is covered by freshwater. The Great Lakes, for example, cover more than 243,000 square kilometres (km2) and hold an estimated six quadrillion gallons of water – about one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water supply [1].

Here are some more fun facts on Canada’s freshwater resources and how our country responsibly manages this precious resource. Also see:

Canada’s Freshwater: Visualized

Map: Chris Brackley / Canadian Geographic

As seen above, Canada's vast landscapes are covered with millions of lakes, rivers and streams. From the deep north to the Great Lakes, freshwater is found from coast-to-coast-to-coast, underpinning Canada's vast hydropower generation capacity which accounts for 60 per cent of electricity generation in the country.

Canada is also home to more than 31,000 lakes larger than three km2 in area. Canada's largest lakes include [6]:

  • Lake Superior - 82,100 km2
  • Lake Huron - 59,600 km2
  • Great Bear Lake - 31,328 km2
  • Great Slave Lake - 28,568 km2
  • Lake Erie - 25,700 km2

Canada’s Freshwater: Surface Area

Canadian freshwater facts - there are 2 million lakes across Canada

As mentioned above, about 9 per cent of Canada’s land surface is covered with freshwater. Now that is a lot of H2O!

Let us put 9 per cent of Canada’s land surface area into perspective:

  • At 9.985 million km2 (Canada’s land surface area), 9 per cent would equate to 898,650 square kilometres (km2).
  • With Canadian Football League (CFL) fields at 8,152 square metres (m2) in size, it would take approximately 110,236,752 of them to cover this surface area.
  • It would take about 159 Prince Edward Island’s (at 5,660 km2) or about 2.2 Newfoundland and Labrador’s (at 405,212 km2) to do the same.

If you were to consider the depth of these freshwater bodies and convert them to volume, Canada's sheer amount of fresh water is unfathomable, quite frankly!

Canada's Freshwater: Volume

Canadian freshwater facts - canada has 32,000 lakes larger than three square kilometres

According to the federal government, Canada has about 20 per cent of the world’s total freshwater resources. Current predictions estimate world freshwater reserves at 1.386 billion km3. However, only 7 per cent of Canada’s total reserves are deemed to be “renewable.”

Every year, about 7 per cent of the world’s renewable freshwater supply is discharged by rivers in Canada at a rate of 105,000 cubic metres per second, or 105 million litres per second.

Let’s put 105 million litres into perspective:

From Google, let us assume an Olympic-sized swimming pool has a width of 50x25x2 in metres (m). With 1 litre equal to 0.001 metres cubed, this pool would contain 2.5 million litres of water.

That is 42 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water being discharged by rivers in Canada every second – absolutely incredible!

Non-Renewable Freshwater in Canada

Most of Canada’s freshwater resources contain fossil water found in non-renewables such as glaciers, underground aquifers, and some lakes. But Canada is still in the top three regarding water yield rates annually.

Water yield is largely from melted ice and precipitation that flows above/below ground, gradually reaching bodies of water such as lakes and rivers. In Canada, water yields peaks in the springtime as rain increases and snow and ice melt.

Canada's Water Yield

Canadian freshwater facts - canada has 9 percent of its land area covered by freshwater

Every year, Canada’s average water yield is estimated at 3,472 billion cubic metres [5]. This is almost the same volume of water found in Lake Huron – one of the Great Lakes – giving Canada the world’s third-largest renewable freshwater supply behind Brazil (1st) and Russia (2nd) [5].

On a per capita basis, Canada beats both countries however with approximately 109,850 cubic metres of renewable freshwater per person. Now that is amazing! Also see:

How Does Canada Manage its Water Resources?

Here are three examples of many methods used by Canadian governments to manage freshwater in the country:

1. Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM): Canadian governments use the IWRM framework to manage their water resources efficiently, as it involves collaboration among various stakeholders and sectors to make informed decisions. The approach balances the social, economic, and environmental aspects of water management to ensure the responsible use and conservation of Canadian freshwater resources [2].

2. Agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs): Canadian governments promote the adoption of BMPs in the agricultural sector to safeguard water quality. These practices focus on reducing agricultural pollution, soil erosion and nutrient runoff, protecting and preserving freshwater resources [3].

3. Indigenous Research and Water Governance: Canadian governments increasingly recognize and incorporate Indigenous research and knowledge into water governance approaches. This shift ensures the inclusion of Indigenous perspectives in water resource management policies, promoting sustainability, and respecting Indigenous rights and treaties [4].

These approaches contribute to the responsible management of Canada's water resources by promoting collaboration, environmentally friendly agricultural practices, and the inclusion of diverse perspectives in decision-making processes.

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SOURCES:

1. Great Lakes Commission. (n.d.). Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River basin. Retrieved June 2023 from https://www.glc.org/lakes/

2. Government of Canada. (n.d.). Integrated Water Resources Management. Environment and Climate Change Canada. Retrieved June 2023 from https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/water-overview/joint-initiatives/integrated-resource.html

3. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. (2021, June 4). Best management practices for Canadian water quality guidelines for the protection of aquatic life. Retrieved June 2023 from https://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/agriculture-and-climate/adapting-to-climate-change/best-management-practices-for-canadian-water-quality/?id=1541695890031

4. Wilson, N. J., Harris, L. M., Joseph-Rear, A., Beaumont, J., & Satterfield, T. (2019). Water is medicine: Reimagining water security through Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in relationships to treated wastewater. Water Alternatives, 12(1), 169-193. Retrieved June 2023 from http://www.water-alternatives.org/index.php/alldoc/articles/vol12/v12issue1/466-a12-1-8/file

5. Statistics Canada. (2011). Environment. Retrieved June 2023 from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-402-x/2011000/chap/env/env-eng.htm

6. The Canadian Encyclopedia. (2021, September 21). Largest Lakes in Canada. Historica Canada. Retrieved June 2023 from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/largest-lakes-in-canada

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